Fractal Define-C Mid-Tower ATX Case Review

Fitting two large radiators within traditional mid-tower dimensions, Fractal Design’s Define-C continues the trend away from “Bigger Is Better” logic that previously pervaded the gaming-oriented Enthusiast space.

The trend of pushing ever-increasing case sizes into the gaming PC market appears to have reversed. External bays were the first things to go as gamers increasingly relied on downloaded content, and large drive racks soon disappeared because many builders no longer need a bunch of 3.5” drives to store their games.

Huge front-panel radiator mounts replaced these items as top builders looked to impress their customers and/or followers with complicated dual-radiator cooling systems. Many buyers now realize that they don’t need both radiators to be enormous when their CPUs draw less than 200W. Knocking out the so-called 420mm radiator requirement reduces case height, just as kicking those drive bays to the curb reduced the need for case depth, allowing us to scale full ATX mid-towers back to late 20th-century proportions.

That’s not to say that everyone will be pleased with a case that supports only two 3.5” hard drives and three more 2.5” SSDs, only that most buyers will figure out that a case like Fractal Design's Define-C can easily fill their needs after careful consideration. Fractal Design’s release timing means that the company believes you’ve already done those calculations and that you're ready to make the leap. If those considerations include noise damping on both side panels, a window-less Define-C is also available at a $5 discount.

The Define-C includes a full-length bottom panel dust filter that slides out the front, making it unnecessary to turn your case around every time you want to clean that filter. This feature is so highly demanded by so many builders and available on so few cases that some readers will likely demand an award without considering the rest of this review. The rest of us will move on!

Let it be known that the Define-C is a low-cost enthusiast case that barely breaks into the $80+ market at $85 for the windowed version. That explains why a textured plastic front panel that resembles anodized aluminum under certain lighting angles resembles painted wood from other angles. It also explains why users get only two USB ports and no fan controllers, though some of us aren’t a fan of manual controllers. An aluminum-capped power button gives this otherwise economical unit a touch of class.

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The Fractal Define-C's Other Half

Snapping the face off, we find a latched front fan grill with an integrated nylon filter screen, covering a 3x 120mm radiator mount with 2x 140mm capability. Front-panel ports are attached to a separate plastic box to ease removal of the panel.

The face and one side panel are damped with cloth-faced asphalt mats, while the top panel fan cover uses damping foam with a matching cloth cover. Builders who want noise reduction on both side panels must order the cheaper, non-window Define-C.

The top panel is just a little too short to fit three 120mm fans, but two 140mm fans can still be placed here with a little room to slide them fore and aft. Builders who choose a two-by-120mm radiator instead are rewarded with 40mm motherboard clearance, which is needed since the 1.2” of space above the motherboard is just a little more than required for fans alone.

Builders who really need a 3x 120mm radiator on the front panel will need to remove the hard drive bay cover, along with its drive cage. Doing so provides access to a 120mm bottom panel fan mount that’s also compatible with a 92mm fan, though Fractal Design doesn’t advertise this alternative.

A quick look around back shows that the Define-C has the bare minimum of expansion slots (seven), a 120mm exhaust fan that can be slid vertically to adjust for rear-panel radiator end caps and line fittings, and a very minimal space behind the motherboard tray for cables. Fractal Design focuses the Define-C cable management instead on an inward S-Bend at the front of the motherboard tray, which has cable passages angled towards the motherboard’s front edge but prevents oversized boards (such as the 10.6”-deep premium unit we use in CPU cooler evaluation) from being installed. A removable bracket allows the power supply to be inserted through the back panel, easing cable access within the permanently-attached power supply shroud.

Phillips-head screws that secure the 3.5” drive cage are located above the bottom panel intake filter, while a single thumbscrew that secures the 2.5” triple-drive tray behind the motherboard is far easier to reach. The lower trays feature vibration damping grommets for 3.5” drives, plus solid mounts for additional 2.5” drives. Included shoulder screws prevent the grommets from being crushed.

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  • blazorthon
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense. $80 is a moderate amount to spend on a case for a typical computer and while more USB ports might not be needed, it's not like the little USB port adapters cost much of anything. There are dozens of sub $40 cases with three or four USB ports.
  • ryguybuddy
    Well, 3 reviews at once at the same case....

    wow
  • thundervore
    The only thing I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.

    They got everything else spot on. The ability remove the bottom dust filter from the front of the case, great. Full front dust filter, great.
  • rchris
    Good review, EXCEPT it is very annoying to read case reviews that don't provide even the basic dimensions of the case (H x W x D).
  • rchris
    Edit to earlier comment: Sorry, I missed the comparison insert with the dimensions.
  • gilbadon
    Define S is still my favorite. However, this does have some cool improvements. I wish they made the top look better when the vents are open. I am not a fan of the recessed honeycomb holes.
  • RedJaron
    412399 said:
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense.

    627667 said:
    The only think I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.
    Considering not every mboard has two 3.0 headers on the board, I don't see it a problem of having only two ports on the front of the case. This is a higher-end mainstream case, not a top-shelf model. Can you honestly say you regularly use more than two front ports simultaneously? If so, what for? You're always charging your phone while syncing your Zune while using two flash drives? This is like people saying they need at least 10 USB ports on the back of their mboard.

    And I'm not sure why the rear fan should be a problem; the case also comes with a 120mm fan in the front. Are you complaining that it's not 140mm?
  • Crashman
    412399 said:
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense. $80 is a moderate amount to spend on a case for a typical computer and while more USB ports might not be needed, it's not like the little USB port adapters cost much of anything. There are dozens of sub $40 cases with three or four USB ports.
    It's hard for a reviewer to balance out FD's target customer against general expectations. FD is trying to get rid of features that the target customer thinks are in the way, such as USB 2.0 ports, hard drive cages above the power supply shroud, and external bays. It was easy for them to knock a few dollars off for the missing sheet metal back when they launched the Define-S, but the ports...not so much.
  • Luminary
    Thanks for the great review.

    Not sure how gung-ho I am about trying this one out, looks like a fairly awkward mid-point with some good features and some things lacking enough to make it not worth the while.
  • elbert
    That is one great case. I love how open and vented its made.
  • Luminary
    45049 said:
    That is one great case. I love how open and vented its made.


    Think you might put a build in this one?
  • avatar_raq
    570460 said:
    ....This is like people saying they need at least 10 USB ports on the back of their mboard. ....


    I need more than 10!! I use 11 out of the 12 USB ports on my ASUS X99 deluxe's back IO: 1 x Mouse, 2 x keyboard, 1 x USB 3 hub, 1 x web cam, 1 x xbox 360 wireless receiver, 1 x external HDD, 1 x power of headset, 1 x printer, 2 x UPS interface. And while you can argue a USB hub can do the trick, it is not an ideal solution to me, it complicates desk cable management and the drivers may be problematic.
  • unreal104
    No every person use 11 usb ports like you do. We are talking with majority here if i am not wrong. Normally a person would 1x Mouse, 1x Keyboard, 1 x Web cam, 1 x wireless receiver, 1 x printer (6 USB ports). Front ports we just use for external HDD/USB thumbdrive which normally are not connected 24/7.

    and off course your x99 includes far more ports than typical z170/B150 motherboard. As i am saying intel x99 is for niche high end market. z170/b150 for general consumer.
  • daglesj
    627667 said:
    The only thing I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear. They got everything else spot on. The ability remove the bottom dust filter from the front of the case, great. Full front dust filter, great.


    I have the Fractal 4 and I would mark it down for having 4 USB ports on top (2xUSB2.0 and 2xUSB3.0)

    Two too many.
  • thundervore
    570460 said:
    412399 said:
    While I understand this may be the market norm these days, I don't think an $80 price point means that only two USB ports makes sense.
    627667 said:
    The only think I can knock this case for is only having 2 USB ports and a 120 fan in the rear.
    Considering not every mboard has two 3.0 headers on the board, I don't see it a problem of having only two ports on the front of the case. This is a higher-end mainstream case, not a top-shelf model. Can you honestly say you regularly use more than two front ports simultaneously? If so, what for? You're always charging your phone while syncing your Zune while using two flash drives? This is like people saying they need at least 10 USB ports on the back of their mboard. And I'm not sure why the rear fan should be a problem; the case also comes with a 120mm fan in the front. Are you complaining that it's not 140mm?


    Think about it, as a standard, the motherboard will come with at least 1 USB3 internal header and 1 USB2 internal header. The customer will connect up the USB3 internal header to the case, what are they going to do with the remaining internal USB2 header? There are no front bays so they cant install a card reader or more ports, the only thing they can do in hook up an AIO.

    It is inexcusable for an ATX case to come with only 2 USB ports. ITX, yes I understand as ITX motherboards usually only come with 1 internal header. ATX comes with at least 2, even mATX comes with at least 2, so why release a case that does not give the customer the ability to fully utilize the connectors on their motherboard?

    I have about 6 USB ports in the back of my board and that connects up my UPS, Bluetooth dongle, web cam and Kingston USB3 card reader. Up front, I have 4 ports and that connects up my Logitech dongle so I can get the full 10 feet of good coverage for the mouse and keyboard, cable to sync my TomTom and connect my android, and one for my iphone and the other port is just for flash drives when I need a quick transfer or my game controller when I play old school emulators.

    This case is not marketed to me, maybe because im not a average user to some but simply putting 4 USB ports up front would have opened up the case to more customers than eliminating them.

    The fan is all about opening up the possibilities for the customer, they are taking steps backwards by eliminating options.

    Now that I think about it, the front IO looks like its just held in with screws. So I predict in the future, this case will be rereleased as an advanced model with 3 or 4 USB ports (2 USB3, 1 USB C) and HDMI pass-through.
  • techy1966
    I would say this case is not for me I do not mind the look as the bland flat fronts are starting to grow on me I guess. What I can not go without is having the choice to add more HDD space my current build has 4 4TB storage drives and 1 512GB Samsung SSD and even with this amount of space the 16TB is just over half full of data and my work files and of coarse games and music. If this is the new trend in system cases people like me will either have to go external drives only and have those drives taking up space on the desk or get the biggest drives you can find and use less drives to get more space but that is also more costly option.

    My other complaint is the total lack of 5.25 external drive bays yes I know DVD-RW drives are not used as much anymore but in my system I have Blu-Ray burners that actually get used a lot so not having the 5.25 bays and having to go external drives again just makes the desk even more cluttered. These case manufactures need to know there are all types of customers out there and it used to be that manufactures used to at least try to have product options for everyone. Now day it seems to be 1 size fits all attitude and we have to learn to make trade offs in order to get what we want which is not right.

    I am sure I am not the only one that has noticed the new trend the last few years in the computer industry. We seem to be losing more and more good tech that a lot fo people still use but because it is not in the cool crowd any more we loose it and what replaces it always seems to have a lot of short comings and features missing. Yes it is better than the old tec but at the same time it is lacking in features and as such is both better and not better I was not really sure how to word that so hopefully it makes sense..lol I do like the look of the case from the front like I said the flat bland look has grown on me and for the price it looks like it is built not to shabby but it would not be my first or middle or last choice when deciding on the new case just because of what I had stated of the lacking options.
  • xvegan
    For us minions who could care less about "gaming" and need hardware to support 3.5" drives in 5.25" removable trays, (software dev facilities) bootable optical drives and 5.25" interface panels for USB3, USB2, card readers, eSATA etc. this case is useless.

    I hope all case makers aren't trending this way
  • Crashman
    480359 said:
    For us minions who could care less about "gaming" and need hardware to support 3.5" drives in 5.25" removable trays, (software dev facilities) bootable optical drives and 5.25" interface panels for USB3, USB2, card readers, eSATA etc. this case is useless. I hope all case makers aren't trending this way
    The general market is broad enough for companies to offer different products to different niches. Some builders were saying "I WON'T buy anything with an external bay, I want the clean look" so companies responded by eliminating them on some cases. Then some builders said "I WON'T buy anything with extra hard drive cages because I'm putting water cooling gear there anyway", and Fractal Design introduced the Define-S. Now we're down to guys saying they'll never use more than two USB ports...

    These cases are designed for a certain type of buyer that doesn't represent ME. But as a reviewer, I have to represent THEM in a limited regard: That is, when I'm reviewing something they might want to buy. I have to essentially shut off the part of my brain that says "that doesn't make sense" when discussing things that they think do make sense, because their needs and desires are different from mine. And I think their ideal would be a case with no visible seams or ports, connecting all external devices wirelessly or to the rear panel.

    For general buyers who don't hate seams and ports, I'm going to continue recommending four USB ports and at least one external bay, partly because the external bay can be used for bay devices. And if I'm recommending those cases to most people, of course I'll continue reviewing them.
  • Luay
    Crashman

    Can we get more clearance for the PSU if we remove the bottom drive cage & shroud?
  • Crashman
    414009 said:
    Crashman Can we get more clearance for the PSU if we remove the bottom drive cage & shroud?

    Do you have a drill? Do you really need to remove the shroud? Cage removal was covered in the article and does provide space for deeper power supplies and larger cable bundles.